First – who are we?
Canadians who live in France. .Being self-employed, semi-retired, we have time in the winter to get away. We certainly prefer December in the Dordogne to Toronto, but it’s dark and dreary most places in the Northern hemisphere. Our preferred approach to travel is to spend a lot of time in one place, preferably in a rented house/apartment rather than moving from hotel to hotel every one or two nights.
We still have family in Canada, and in Australia and so decided that we could combine visits to both in an around the world trip. . Since the aim was to spend the Christmas holiday in Australia, it made sense to start in Canada, go west, and end up in Burma. That meant we would be there the last two weeks of February. Starting to get hot but still comfortable.
How to do it
In the 17 years that we have been here we’ve travelled a lot, (Europe of course, Egypt, Uzbekistan) but never to SE Asia. We had each always wanted to go to Burma, for no particular reason, other than romantic ones, but this seemed the year to do it. We didn’t want to go with a group, but because of our unfamiliarity with Asia, we were a little nervous about trying it completely on our own. So I contacted a number of agencies, indicating what we wanted to do - basically see the major sites, with a personal guide.
But, since we probably had more time than most ‘working’ travellers (our whole trip took 4 months) we didn’t need to move around every day, and preferred to have some time on our own in each place.
After reviewing proposals from a number of agencies, we settle on Goodnews (http://www.myanmargoodnewstravel.com/ ) highly recommended by Lonely Planet and winter of a Condé Nast award. We dealt with William, the founder and manager of the company. We were very impressed with the service we received, except for a few ‘bleeps’ when their server went down and email communication was impossible. But I suspect this is not unknown in Burma!
What we decided to do – Plan A and Plan B
The main think we knew we wanted was a cruise on the Irrawaddy. I had checked out several companies, and decided on a 5 day cruise from Bagan to Mandalay with http://www.ayravatacruises.com/. We would be on the air conditioned Pandaw 1947, with 16 cabins, for a leisurely trip with a number of stops.
So we would arrive in Yangon, spend a day there, fly to Bagan, spend some time there. Then cruise up to Mandalay, a few days there, flight to Heho for Inle Lake, and then back to Yangon. William did tell us that Ayravata would not confirm the cruise until 60 days before, and if there were fewer than 10 cabins rented, reserved the right to cancel ‘but he didn’t expect that to be a problem.’
There WAS a problem. No one else in the world seemed to want to book the same cruise. We were the only booking, and so the cruise was cancelled. Back to square one – or Plan B.
We could still take a cruise, but now a 2 day rather than a 5 day, and on a slightly larger boat, the Paukan, with 29 cabins. We really wanted the Pandaw because it was smaller and older, but there was no possibility. And the only cabin available that would fit our original itinerary was the Suite, twice as expensive as the regular cabins. So, back to the drawing board.
We decided that if we reversed our itinerary we could fly to Mandalay, take the 2 day cruise FROM Mandalay to Bagan, and then go to Inle. It gave us more time in Yangon and Mandalay that we really wanted, but since it was now December, we were in New Zealand, and had thought this was all settled in September, we had run out of energy for the planning process.
Visa – not really a glitch, but something that wasn’t as easy as we’d hoped – though not as difficult as we’d feared. Because our trip was 4 months long, we couldn’t arrange for a visa in our country of residence, France. It would have expired before we even arrived. The Visa on Arrival had just been introduced, and we thought we would be able to use that. But of course, then it was cancelled, and so we were back to planning a trip without having arranged for a visa. As it turned out, we were in Australia for almost two months. We were nervous about mailing our passports, and thought about driving to Canberra to try to arrange the visa at the Myanmar embassy directly. But the person I spoke to before Christmas said they were so backed up we would have to wait for several days at least even if we were on the spot. So we decided to mail the passports, hoping that they wouldn’t disappear into a void. In fact they came back in record time. The visa department must have processed them in a day or two, and we had them back much faster than expected.
And a miscalculation. We were going to be away for 4 months, with carry-on luggage, arriving in Burma for the last two weeks. So we decided not to bring the Lonely Planet guide with us – after all, we were having our private guide. Yes, but still this was probably a mistake. It meant that our research during the time we were away was limited. We had Internet most places, but we would still have liked to have the guide. And while we were in Burma we didn’t have our computer, and so were sometimes at a bit of a loss – after all, it had been more than 4 months since we had read about some places. We survived, however.
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Burma - a slow(ish) trip through a magical country
First – who are we?